Advent – Looking for Patience

It is another grey and cold morning as the third Sunday of Advent arrives.

Outside my window the barren branches of the dogwood tree are scratching against my dining room window.  It is a sorrowful and lonesome sound, and I am reminded again of my sorrows and the struggles of those around me.

Sorrow is a place of loneliness, a place of struggle, whether you are actually alone or surronded by a host of others.  Yet, we are made to feel during this most wonderful time of the year we must be happy and content no matter what.  Joyful always.  This leaves those of us who are struggling feeling outcast and even more lonely.   However, if we buy into this message that we need to make ourselves happy simply for the sake of the season, then we are again missing the message of Advent.


Advent tells us it is okay to be feeling sorrow.

It is okay to be feeling lost.

It is okay to be feeling alone.


In fact, Advent encourages us to embrace all of this, and in our solitude and quiet to bring these sorrows and troubles to our loving Heavenly Father.  He is filled with compassion for each of us, and wants to be our comforter if we will only seek him out.   He is faithful, even when we have not been.  His love is the front porch light that has been left on to welcome us back home.

While reading today’s lectionary readings, I was amazed to see the sorrow and suffering come full circle and turn to rejoicing.  This is a story of choosing the Lord and being his willing child and seeing the promises of God come to fruition in the advent of his Son.  Maybe this isn’t how the lectionary was meant to be read when these verses were put together, but it is what I discovered as I read.

The readings are a journey in God’s story from despair to promise to the promise fulfillment to each of us and instructions for us as we wait.  After all, Advent is the time of waiting and reflecting.

We begin our journey today in Psalm 146:5-10 which begins with the verse:


Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,  whose hope is in the Lord their God, (NRSV)


We are reminded of the ancient people of Israel, who despite God’s best intentions, just couldn’t keep their covenant promises with Him.  As a result, they are no longer a free and chosen people, but an exhiled people wondering if the God of Abraham has abandoned them from good.

THe next stop on our journey this morning is in the book of Isaiah, chapter 35 verses 1-10 where we find a promise from God in verse 4:


“Be strong, do not fear!  Here is your God.  He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense.  He will come and save you.”  (NRSV)


God has seen and heard the cries from his people and seen their sorrows during their exhile, and is making them a promise of deliverance.  He will once again rescue his people, sending a Messiah to restore them to the promise.

Continuing on our journey we find our way to Matthew 11:2-11 where Jesus says starting in verse 4:


“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.  (NRSV)


Many, many years have passed since the promise of a Messiah had been given.  The Jewish people have been freed from exhile and allowed to return to the promised land.  However, they are not a free people.   They are now under the oppression of the Roman empire and subject to much persecution.  When will the Messiah arrive?  Jesus, in response to John the Baptist’s question, is saying he is in fact the promised Messiah that was fore told by Isaiah.

At this point in our journey we must take a detour and backtrack in the story just a little.  We find ourselves now in Luke 1:46-55, the magnificant, Mary’s humn of praise:


And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.  Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.  His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.  He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.  He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.  He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”  (NRSV)


Mary is filled with so much joy at being the handmaiden of the Lord that she can’t contain it!  She is exclaiming of his faithfulness and her amazement of the great purpose she has been given by God that she is willingly able to do through his strength.  The sorrows and oppression are still all around her, but she is seeing God and placing all of her hopes on Him by being a willing participant in his plan.

The final destination on our journey today through God’s promises to us is James 5:7-10 which begins with:


Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. (NRSV)


Just as the farmer must wait out the different seasons we also wait on seasons.  Each season brings us something.  We have seasons of great happiness and also seasons of great sorrow.  Through all of the seasons, be patient.

Patient with God’s timing.

Patient with the circumstances, good or bad.

Patient with ourselves.

As I have been writing this morning, the grey has slowly faded away and the day has taken on a brighter, if not sunny, appearance.  Another example of patience – if we but wait out the grey the light will always return.


Life, too, is a journey.  Advent is just another tool we have in our toolboxes – an atlas to help us find our way on the different roads and paths we find ourselves on.

Perhaps this season you are finding yourself at peace right now and feeling all of the happiness and joy that the season of giving brings.  And that is okay.  Or perhaps you, like me, are finding yourself more in a place of sorrow or struggle.  And that is okay too.

The one constant in all of these seasons is the hand of mercy and compassion of God willing to lead us and guide us as we lean on him.   Whether we are struggling or joyful we can go out, and like the brightening of the grey morning, show those around us that there is still light. If we just keep turning our faces towards it we will eventually find the bright abundance of it shining on us.


In Christ Jesus we find a savior who understands all of our ups and downs and he offers to each of us a place of belonging.

Advent reminds us that we no longer need to seek belonging because we already belong to God.  Each of us is called and chosen already.  No dues necessary, no application process.

Whether in a season of great joy or a season of great sorrow, we are all thirsty.  We all are seeking compassion and understanding.  We are seeking to be patient.

During Advent we remember we are all waiting to rejoice as Mary did, joyful in our blessings and patient in our sorrows, longing to find compassion and acceptance.

All of which we find in the reason for the season.  The King of glory, the Child of the poor.

Click here to listen to What Child Is This, Child of the Poor, one of my favorite hymns at this time of year that came to mind this morning as I was writing.


 

Advent – Looking for Peace

Today is the Second Sunday of Advent.


Christmas preparations are in full swing based on the insane amount of traffic that can now be found in all the shopping areas.

Lights are twinkling on houses.  Baked goods of red, green, silver, and gold line the shelves of bakeries.  Tree lots have almost magically appeared over night and calendars are filling up with holiday parties, Christmas activities, and family gatherings.

We may or may not still be going strong in our Advent devotional readings.


In many churches across our country and around the world believers are listening to messages this morning that include John the Baptist and his voice crying out in the wilderness and his rather interesting fashion choices.  And while this is an important passage where we hear the prophesy of Isaiah coming true in the form of John, that is not the lectionary passage that caught my attention this morning.

It is rather the passage from Romans 15:1-13 , specifically the verses of 4-6 that caught my attention and that I have been meditating on most of this morning:


For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (NRSV)


The general theme of this Romans passage as a whole is to be sefless instead of selfish, and to do so without judgement.

We as Christian brothers and sisters should lift each other up and live in peace as the scriptures of old have instructed us to do through the strength and encouragement of God.  The key to this passage I believe is that this can only happen through the strength and encouragement of God.

We must be at peace within ourselves and accept who we are in God in order to be able to extend this same peace and acceptance to those around us.


This is part of the work of Advent.


What is it about our current society that makes this season of peace not very peaceful?  Leave it to us human beings to turn the season of peace and blessings into the season of chaos and competition.

We try to make the perfect Hallmark channel holiday for our families feeling we need to do it all ourselves and come up with an endless to do list:

  • Baking special cookies and treats
  • Preparing elaborate meals
  • Presents for everyone we have ever met beautifully wrapped complete with handmade bows
  • Decking the halls with decorations inside
  • Magical outdoor displays
  • Seasonal must-do activities
  • Partys and get togethers

As much as I love the Hallmark Channel and its Countdown to Christmas movies, real life doesn’t tend to work like this or allow time for all of these things.  Not if we want to have peace.

In and of themselves there is nothing wrong with any of these things.  It is when we allow ourselves to become so caught up in feeling like we have to do all of these things (and do them well) that we become overwhemled and lose the peace the Savior of this season wants to bring to us.


Our God is a God of love and he wants us to live life abundantly and joyfully. 


So decorate the house, bake the cookies, sing in the Christmas choir, but do so with intentionality and moderation.  Have you ever noticed that the characters in the Hallmark Channel movies are almost never seen doing regular housework or cooking evening meals before rushing off to their daily evening Christmas activities in town?

Be kind and gentle on yourself – you don’t have to do it all on top of your regurlar responsibilities.  It’s okay to buy the cookie tray or leave the tree decorated in only lights if that is all you have the time and energy for this year.  It’s okay to not buy gifts to the point of putting ourselves into financial debt.

Because Advent is a time of preparation – preparation of our hearts:


May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13, NRSV)


Advent is a time of preparation – not of our homes but of ourselves.  A reset and refresh of our hearts and minds so that we may feel renewed so that when the Prince of Peace arrives our hearts and minds are open to him.  We can gladly invite him into our homes and welcome him into our hearts all over again.

Advent is a time to consider how do I make peace with myself?  How do I make peace with my past, present, and future?  Because it is only when we are at peace within ourselves that we can truly extend peace to others.

And only our heavenly Father can bring us that peace that surpasses all understanding.

O come, o come Emanual.

We long for your peace, justice, and mercy in our hearts and in our world.


A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.  The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LordHis delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.  Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. (Isaiah 11:1-5, NRSV)


 


Click here to listen to Welcome To Our World by Michael W. Smith


Advent – Looking for Light

It seems very fitting that this morning we are waking up to rain.  Rain that is leaving the morning grey and dark.

Today marks the beginning of the Season of Advent.  The season of darkness and light, of prayer and reflection.  The season of hope and redemption.

A reminder from God that no matter what darkess we face, he will always return us to the light.

Advent isn’t a celebration.  Rather it is a journey much like life.  It is a pause from the busyness of life to reflect and take stock of where we are at spiritually and emotionally.  It is being attentive and watching and waiting on God and this wondrous mystery of redemption.  God’s promise fulfulled.

Advent gives us a space for acknowleging our disappointments, failures, and hurts.  It gives us space for grief and lament with the promise of hope.  It gives us space to refresh and recharge our relationships with ourselves, those around us, and most importantly, with God.

Advent allows us to be vulnerable with ourselves and each other.

It is as if the heavenly Father is saying to each of us, “Come, tell me all about it.  Let me help you.  I love you.”  An ever present help in our struggles:

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
-Isaiah 43:1-3 (NRSV)

Two years ago I marked the start of advent with this post with my reflections on the grief and darkness I was feeling at that time.   This year I find that I am again entering into the season of advent with grief, but of a different nature.  This is grief for my sense of self and self worth that I have realized was lost over the years.  I am trying to find that girl again, and be the woman God created me to be.

Maybe there is something in turning 40 (which I did last year) that makes you stop and reflect on where you are and where you have been and wonder where you are going next.  A kind of life Advent season.  What were my dreams then?  What are they now?  And the realization that regardless of dreams, life just happens.


And isn’t this exactly what happened to Mary, the mother of Jesus, but on a far greater scale?

Mary was a normal teenager.  She was engaged to be married to a fine upstanding man of the community.  Did she dream about the life she would lead with him?  How many babies they would have?  How she would decorate their home?

I am sure that in her plans and dreams she never imagined that she would be pregnant out of wedlock or fleeing for her life with her baby for safety in Egypt.  Nor would she have ever imagined seeing her son disown his family (Mark 3:31-35) making the family Passover celebrations ackward going forward.    But then again, as an unwed mother, Mary herself probably made family celebrations a little ackward for a while.

And even though she lived under the oppressive rule of the Romans, she would never have thought her son would be one of the ones who would be hung from a cross and that she would be standing there in shock watching, greiving, and lamenting for her son.

But Mary was faithful and when the Angel Gabriel asked her if she would be the mother of God, she willingly said yes.  She willingly abandoned her dreams of what she thought her life would be and became the willing servant of God.  By being a faithful light in the darkness of ancient Palestine, Mary brought THE LIGHT into the world.


Many of us are lost, but we are not alone in the darkness. 

We are seeking, and we will be found if we want to be.  Work through the pain and grief.  Lament for the losses you have experienced.  And remember that no matter the darkess, the light always comes.  Have faith and know that you are God’s beloved.

Whether you are a lone soul full of faith or looking for a faith community or are part of a faith community, let us all be light together this Advent season.  Let this light shine out into the darkess of the world around us.

Whether this year finds you grieving or rejoicing or somewhere in between, this space of Advent is for you.

Arise, your light has come!

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
    and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
    and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light,
    and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
-Isaiah 60:1-3 (NRSV)

O come, o come Emanual

Click here to listen to O Come, O Come Emanual by Selah


Rooted and Resting – Pensive Reflections

Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay                                          

 

 

 

 

Autumn is moving through its courses.


Leaves are falling. Christmas is just around the corner and Advent starts this Sunday.  In two days it will be Thanksgiving Day. 

And I find myself feeling pensive.

This year has brought about many changes in my life.  

A realization that I have limitations and if I don’t pay attention to my body and take care of it then it won’t function properly.

A realization that ministry isn’t supposed to be overwhelming and stressful to the point of affecting my physical condition.

A realization that I have trauma and loss in my past that I have never taken the proper time to grieve.  As a result, I am discovering that I have stuffed so much pain down deep inside of myself because my defenses and sense of self preservation needed to just keep moving forward and holding the shattered pieced together.  I have lost the ability to be intune with my body and how it is feeling. 

And so I have made changes.


I pay attention to what time I go to bed, I eat food that will nourish me but not leave me feeling deprived, sick, or unsatisfied, and I am finding ways to rest and recharge on my days off from work. 

I have left the congregation that I was a part of for several years. 

In some ways it feels like I went through a divorce from my church due to irreconcilable differences (it’s still there but we aren’t simpatico anymore).  In others ways it feels like I am grieving the loss of a dear friend as I have parted ways with the community of that church (but I can never go back in the same capacity because the joy, encouragement, and spiritual growth I found there has ended).  I mourn for those people and the good times that were shared there and the lessons that were learned there. 

But there is also a sense of peace, that it was the right time and the right thing to do at this point in my journey for my overall health.


I am taking some time to decompress and assess where I am at spiritually and plan to start seeking a new church home soon.  Along the way I have met up with some wonderful spiritual guides that have seemed uniquely qualified to minister to me during this transitional time.  The presence of the hand of Providence continuing in my life is a deep comfort.   

I am getting counseling and life coaching.  Looking back to unpack the stuffed down pain and process and deal with it while at the same time finding hope and charting my future courses.   And all the while accepting who I am and where I am at on my journey right now. Taking the time to enjoy life in all of its imperfections and embracing myself as I rediscover who I am and have been all along.

Boundaries are important.  

Balance is vital.

This pensiveness and these reflections started today when I ran across Micah 6:8 in my readings today:


He has shown you, O man, what is good; 

And what does the Lord require of you 

But to do justly, 

To love mercy, 

And to walk humbly with your God?

And now I am wondering, have I overcomplicated what God’s call on my life is  by scurrying around trying to desperately find my purpose and answer my call in life?

These verses are few, but how very full and life giving they are!  They are the blueprint for a life well lived. The blueprint Jesus himself used in his life that should be the example we seek to follow above all others. 

Recently a dear cousin of mine pointed out to me that when he needed to, Jesus stepped away.  He stepped away to rest, recharge, pray, and heal himself. She also pointed out that if it was okay for him to do this when he needed to, it is absolutely okay for us to do so when needed as well. 

So if you ask me where I am at on my journey, I will tell you that I am currently resting and healing.  Physically, emotionally, and spiritually.


If you stop by my house on Thanksgiving or any given weekend you will find me preparing homemade, nutritious meals for my family – comfort cooking at its finest that is helping me to restore my sanity.  You will also find the tall stack of cozy mystery stories I have rediscovered that are helping me find rest.  

Eventually I will find a new church home to be in community with.  We aren’t meant to always walk this journey alone. In the meantime, I will follow Micah’s instructions and do justly, love mercy, and continue to always walk with God.  

Will I ever have the opportunity to teach or preach again?  I don’t know…but I hope so. 

I am, and always will be, a faithful seeker and disciple of Jesus.  Right now I am faithfully following him and his example to rest.  

Trusting that in his own good timing, God and his loving kindness will lead me where I am meant to be next. 

Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, 

Whose trust is the Lord. 

They shall be like a tree planted by water, 

Sending out roots by the stream. 

It shall not fear when heat comes, 

And its leaves shall stay green;

In the year of drought it is not anxious, 

And it does not cease to bear fruit.


Owning Who I Am – God’s Beloved

Today on Facebook I ran across this quote:

“May today there be peace within. 
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be. 
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith. 
May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you. 
May you be content knowing you are a child of God. 
Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. 
It is there for each and every one of us.”

The authorship of this quote is questionable.  It has been attributed to each of the Theresa/Teresa trio of saints – Theresa of Lisieux, Teresa of Avila, and Mother Theresa of Calcutta – but many suspect it in fact wasn’t written by any of them and was actually written by persons unknown in the 1970’s.

Regardless of who wrote it, these beautiful words fill me with hope and courage to spread my wings and soar!   It also has me thinking about who I am in God and am I using the gifts I been given to live out God’s call in my life?  I mean, really truly use them to the best of my abilities?

Do I own who I am as God’s Beloved?

One of the recurring themes resonating with me in a lot of what I have been reading lately is that I am called by God.  As such I should live out HIS calling for my life, not what other PEOPLE’s expectations say I should be (based on societal or cultural norms).  I don’t and shouldn’t be hiding my light under a bucket, so to speak, in order to appease the comfort of others.

I think this is something that I truly struggle with.  It’s like I’ve been conditioned to champion those around me without really realizing what my own worth is or that I have something valuable to contribute.  Maybe all the comments over the years about not having a bachelor’s degree have really left me thinking of my talents as not enough.

Sometimes my gender has caused comments to be made about what I should or shouldn’t be doing, or where I “fit” into things.  These have also left a mark on me because I think a lot of times it is in our female nature to want to nurture and promote others around us, even at the expense of ourselves.

But in the wake of realizing, yet again, I am more than just what a piece of paper or my peers might say about me, I am going to now name what I am as a reminder to myself that God has been very gracious to me and has blessed me with many gifts.  Own who I am as God’s beloved, so to speak, in no particular order:


  • I am intelligent and actually quite educated.  Although the only degree I have says “Associate’s” I have an incredibly curious nature that has lead me to serious study of many different things as well as I have earned almost three quarters of a Bachelor’s degree in Business(Accounting).
  • I am a disciple – I am hungry for God and have a lifelong thirst to seek his ways to become more like Jesus in my daily life.  The C.S. Lewis Institute was, and continues to be a great guide in helping seek paths of continued growth in my spiritual life as I engage with Scripture and draw ever closer in relationship with God the Father.
  • I am a leader – both at work and at church, I have been blessed to serve as a leader in many different ways.  There is a quote that hangs in my office by Sheryl Sandberg that says, “Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.”  I agree with that whole heartedly and try to live that out with my staff.
  • I am kind hearted – Too much so at times.  I go out of my way to try to help others.  I can’t stand to see the commercials on tv that have starving children or caged, sad animals.  I am a people pleaser with a servants heart.
  • I am an accountant – no degree, but with seventeen years of full time experience in this field, it is safe to say that I am accomplished and competent in this area.
  • I am a singer – I LOVE to sing.  It can be in the shower, around the house, or in the car.  I also sing with our church’s praise team.  In high school I was in choir, musicals, and sang the National Anthem at some of the football games.
  • I am a writer – I have written for this blog, and I have written a few sermons.  I love expressing my thoughts on paper and wish I had the time to do that more often.  While I don’t have a following, my pieces have been picked up by a few outlets over the years.  I would love to someday write a book, if I could just figure out what I need to be writing about!
  • I am a student of theology – born and raised Catholic, but converted as an adult to Mennonite, I love studying the bible, biblical events, historical church history, specific denominational beliefs, the wider church as a whole and the early church.  All of it.  I can’t get enough of it.  I love to see how God weaves things together and specifically how women have fit into his plans.
  • I am creative – well there are the whole singing and writing things, but I also love to knit, crochet, do needlepoint, and pretend that someday I will scrapbook.  When my son was younger I enjoyed making his birthday cakes and valentine’s day boxes.
  • I am a teacher– Both at work and at times at church.  I love digging into material and then helping others to learn it as well.  I have never been the type to hoard information to myself.   I love sharing!

I have never been comfortable talking about myself in these kinds of terms and often downplay myself or my different roles.  So this is reaffirming to myself that I am already ENOUGH exactly as I am if I take the time to remember this.

There isn’t anything that I need to prove, nothing that I need to earn before I can be taken seriously.  This also isn’t all that I am.  God has blessed each of us in more ways than we can ever list completely.

We all have our labels that we go through life with.  I am a wife, a mother, an accounting manager, a praise team leader, etc.  However, I am so much more than these labels.

I am God’s beloved.

And so are you.